Shopify marketing

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Shopify & Google Analytics: GA4 tracking guide for 2023

Rudi Eihenbaums profile picture

Rudi Eihenbaums

Sep 12, 2023

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Are you a Shopify store owner wondering how Google Analytics 4 (GA4) can enhance your analytics tracking?

We’re here to help. This guide covers:

  • how to set up Google Analytics for Shopify,

  • the benefits and challenges of using it,

  • and the role of other analytics platforms from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Shopify’s own admin panel in conjunction with GA4.

We interviewed Felipe Maté, an e-commerce analytics expert at Elevar, who helps OpenStore operate the analytics needs of 50+ Shopify stores.

Why use GA4 for your Shopify store?

If you want to stick to Google Analytics, you have to use GA4 now, because the previous version, Universal Analytics (UA), has been phased out by Google already.

GA4 is the new standard for performance tracking. Three main benefits of GA4 over UA for Shopify stores are:

  1. Improved customer journey tracking: “GA4 is good at identifying users throughout their journey, making attribution reports more insightful. This is a great enhancement because the user journey of an e-commerce store can get very complex depending on the customer acquisition strategy,” Felipe says. It’s especially useful if you’re using an attribution model that isn’t last-touch.

  2. Flexible, event-based data model: this means that GA4 “allows you to track basically everything using simple categories: events and event parameters,” Felipe adds. It also means you can do everything with GA4 that you could with UA, but not vice versa, because of how data is structured. (Something that you hear commonly mentioned on social media is that UA relied on session-based metrics, while GA4 relies on user-based metrics, but this consideration has little relevance to the average GA4 user.)

  3. Simplified, focused reporting: the platform encourages creating custom reports that are meaningful to your business goals and understanding customers. GA4 doesn't bombard you with numerous pre-built reports like UA did.

New features in GA4 for 2023

  • Advanced user and audience identification: you can craft more specific and dynamic audience segments, and get deeper insights into your Shopify store’s customer behavior. Felipe adds that, “this feature is especially helpful if you’re sharing your audiences with Google Ads” (more on this later).

  • Data-driven attribution for purchases and other conversions: GA4 introduces advanced, data-driven attribution models, allowing for more insightful analysis of conversions and purchasing behavior.

  • Revamped metrics: pageviews, bounce rate, and session data are logged differently in GA4.

GA4 challenges

Customizable reports are definitely a pro of GA4, offering a level of flexibility that the old version of GA lacked. However, these features can be a double-edged sword.

Cons of GA4 for Shopify:

  1. Misinterpreting metrics and dimensions: if you're not fully aware of how each a metric functions, it’s easy to misinterpret it. For example, Felipe says that enhanced e-commerce works similarly in GA4 and UA for Shopify stores: “[when properly set up] they essentially track the same activities. The major difference lies in how this data is presented to the user.” UA’s reports left little room for such misinterpretation, but the new set of report identity and attribution scopes features that GA4 provides can be confusing.

  2. Intimidating e-commerce tracking setup: sometimes, GA4’s data-driven attribution model, attribution scope, and data compatibility doesn’t just lead to misunderstandings. Your Shopify store’s GA4 e-commerce tracking data is probably reliable (more on this later), but merchants can get the feeling that it isn’t. However, the complexity can scare founders away from relying on GA4, instead deferring to Shopify Analytics or that of their advertising platform.

  3. Data limitations by design: like many marketers I’ve spoken to, Felipe expresses frustration with GA4’s data incompatibility and also data thresholding limitations. But if you compare this to UA’s sampled data, the net effect is similar: “no matter how precise we think our tracking is, there will always be some data beyond our reach. And this just adds another layer to it.”

  4. User interface (UI) changes: a lot has changed with GA’s UI and this has caused debate among marketers on Twitter (now rebranded to X), LinkedIn, Reddit, and Facebook. This is just something to get used to.

Ensure your GA4 enhanced e-commerce tracking is properly set up for your Shopify store to minimize these challenges.

The best Shopify & GA4 integration

Here’s OpenStore’s recommended Shopify GA4 setup, after running 50+ stores across all verticals.

Step 1: Choose between Google and Elevar

Starter option for Basic and Advanced Shopify plans: Google

“The Google sales channel in Shopify provides you with a simple plug-and-play GA4 integration,” Felipe says. 

For this option, we recommend that you follow Shopify’s latest guides on how to connect Google Analytics with Shopify:

Then, skip to step 4.

“This GA4 integration does quite a good job of populating your out-of-the-box e-commerce reports, but if you’re on Shopify Plus (and arguably lower tiers), it’s not the best option out there in terms of tracking accuracy,” Felipe introduces Elevar’s alternative option for Shopify GA4 integration.

Enhanced option for Shopify Plus: Elevar

OpenStore uses the Elevar app for GA4 setup needs for all of its 50 Shopify Plus stores, and tracking overall.

Key benefits of Elevar for Shopify Plus stores:

  • All transactions sent server-side to GA4

  • Near-perfect precision in conversion tracking

  • Sends additional data that GA4 needs to identify users throughout long user journeys

  • Set-up tracking via a Chrome extension for many types of custom behavior events in your store

Step 2: Set up Google Tag Manager

If you’re on Shopify Plus, start by setting up Google Tag Manager (GTM).

“It’s a great tool overall that will help merchants be on top of their tracking setup,” Felipe says. 

GTM can help you track different stages of your customer's journey on your website. Starting from a landing page, you can monitor when items are added to or removed from the cart, and track customer behavior through the checkout process.

Especially useful if you manage multiple Shopify stores, GTM helps consolidate and manage website tracking setup for OpenStore’s Shopify stores, making it much easier to resolve problems. Felipe explains:

“One of the most common tracking issues with Shopify stores is duplicate tracking, and debugging can be very hard in case you don’t know where the tracking lives. When you have all of your tracking consolidated in GTM, things become much easier to debug — one less headache for the merchant.”

Step 3: Set up in Elevar 

Once you’ve set up GA4 and GTM, get a free Elevar account to follow this guide how to add Google Analytics to Shopify Plus:

1. Make a new GA4 property in your Google Analytics account.

2. Get the GA4 setup file: download a ready-to-use GA4 container file from Elevar’s dashboard (or use Elevar to set up a server-side tracking destination for GA4).

3. Add the setup file to GTM: import the GA4 container file you downloaded into your GTM web container.

4. Check your tags: use the preview mode in GTM to make sure all the tags for tracking your website’s sales and visits are working properly.

5. Publish your setup in GTM, then go to GA4 and check that you can see real-time data about visits to your site.

That will get you started in collecting data.

Step 4: Resolve three common tracking issues in GA4

Navigating GA4 tracking can feel like a maze. Felipe shares his web analytics expertise on how to avoid GA4 tracking issues:

  1. Duplicate data collection from the same measurement ID triggering two times. This can happen if you set up tracking with both of the methods described in step 1. Simply remove one.

  2. Duplicate data due to incorrect property settings. For example, “cases where the GA4 property is set to gather Universal Analytics events can create overlap with the events collected via the Google tag,” Felipe explains.

  3. Duplicate data from multiple tracking apps. “Best option here is to be on top of all your store apps and check if they have the ability to deploy any sort of tracking in your store,” Felipe explains. “Always try to keep your tracking scripts organized in one place. Use a centralized system like Google Tag Manager for tracking across multiple marketing channels.”

  4. Unoptimized GA4 property settings. Regularly review your property settings to meet the best standards for data collection and storage. Follow Elevar’s video audit in step 5 on how to optimize GA4 property settings in a Shopify store.

Additionally, find solutions to common issues in our FAQ and resources sections below.

Step 5: Audit your Shopify’s GA4 setup

The final step is to work with that data and put any finishing touches on ensuring that you have accurate and usable data. Here we recommend three options:

Which is the right analytics platform to use?

There’s often overlap between the data and insights you can get from Google Analytics 4, Shopify Analytics, Meta Ads Manager, Google Ads, TikTok Ads Manager, and Snapchat Ads Manager. Which one should Shopify stores use, and when?

The choice depends on your business goals, customer personas, advertising budget, and time. The short answer is: use GA4, Shopify Analytics, and then also the ad platform of where you’re advertising.

Choose your advertising platforms based on where your customer personas spend their time, and not because of the user interface or data availability. Regularly review analytics and ad performance data to optimize your marketing campaigns. Adjust budgets, tweak targeting options, and pause underperforming campaigns.

Shopify Analytics vs. Google Analytics

We recommend always using both Google Analytics and Shopify Analytics. Here’s why:

  • Shopify Analytics is built into Shopify’s admin panel and is specifically tailored to e-commerce metrics. It gives you the business side of your store's performance: tracking sales, conversion rates, and other e-commerce metrics. Is Shopify Analytics enough? No, you’re missing out on in-depth insights if you don’t use Google Analytics.

  • Google Analytics for Shopify provides a comprehensive view of your customers across devices, advertising platforms, and from other marketing channels like organic search and email marketing. GA4 with GTM allows for customized tracking setups, getting deep insight into customer behavior on your site, and allowing you to optimize user experience in your funnel, marketing, and customer support efforts.

Combine them for detailed insights on your Shopify business’ performance and customer behavior.

Some popular alternatives to GA4 for Shopify stores are Piwik PRO, Matomo, and Adobe Analytics.

Meta Ads Manager vs. Shopify Analytics

If you’re advertising on Facebook or Instagram, you can’t go without Meta Ads Manager.

Meta’s tooling can help you target specific demographics and can yield a high return on ad spend when used effectively. It’s particularly strong for creating visually engaging content and for your retargeting needs, something that Shopify Analytics won’t enable.

Google Ads vs. Shopify Analytics

When you want to reach users through Google’s search, display, video, and shopping campaigns and have a budget to allocate to paid advertising, you’ll also need to use the Google Ads platform.

It's great for capturing purchase-intent traffic via Google Search ads, showcasing products with Google Shopping ads, and retargeting users with YouTube ads. Google has extensive reach, and Google Shopping integrates well with Shopify.

TikTok Ads Manager vs. Shopify Analytics

When your target audience includes younger, highly engaged users, and you have visually engaging content, you’ll need to venture beyond Shopify Analytics to the TikTok Ads Manager. TikTok can be an excellent place for brand-building and understanding the granularities of how your TikTok content is performing.

Snapchat Ads Manager vs. Shopify Analytics

Similarly to TikTok, when your target audience is young and your content suits the platform’s casual and creative style, you’ll need to turn to the Snapchat Ads Manager. It offers robust targeting options and is generally less competitive than other platforms, which can result in lower advertising costs. Great for engaging, full-screen, vertical content.

Invest your time

With a rich array of features that allow for comprehensive data tracking and analysis, GA4 can transform your customer acquisition:

“My relationship with GA4 became better after I put in the time to understand how it works. Google did a great job with its documentation. Overall, make sure you’re prepared to navigate this landscape,” says Felipe.

FAQs

  • Can you use Google Analytics with Shopify? Yes, most Shopify stores do.

  • Does Shopify use Google Analytics? Yes, Shopify’s own website uses Google Analytics 4, but it is not out-of-the-box for Shopify stores. If you want to set up Google Analytics on your store, follow these 2-5 steps.

  • When will Shopify support GA4? It does already now, and the previous version of Google Analytics has been discontinued.

  • Why does Google Analytics show no visitors? This is likely due to a tracking issue with your installation (e.g. measurement ID not firing). Follow our guide for proper setup. Alternatively, it could mean there’s no traffic to your website. GA4 expert Felipe adds, “if the traffic volume is too low, it could also be a data thresholding problem — try switching the reporting identity in GA4 to ‘device based’ for a quick check.” Switching to this reporting identity will make the data thresholding issue go away because it doesn't use Google signals to identify users.

Resources

Growing your store:

Store operations:

Managing your store:

Let the experts handle it

Reap all the benefits of GA4 without having to become an expert yourself.

  • OpenStore Drive: a fully-managed automation service for your Shopify store. For 12 months, imagine not having to worry about tracking issues, analytics, or business growth strategies — a year of stress taken off your plate.

Shopify automation service

OpenStore will analyze your store’s performance to calculate your monthly, passive income payments. Get started for free, no-strings-attached:

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